Sunday Before Nativity 2021
On this Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, we hear the Gospel account of the parental lineage of Jesus Christ – those generations from the great patriarch Abraham all the way through to the long -awaited time of the incarnation of God Himself, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is a great mystery and a source of awe, that the God of heaven would deign to enter into human history, would deign to take on human flesh and blood. And in doing so, he places Himself within the context of our human family, with all of its flaws and ups and downs, its triumphs and tragedies, its promises and its betrayals. He assumes humanity in all things – except for sin, which does not penetrate his holy vigilance and love.
When we look at the lineage of those who are the ancestors of Christ, it is sobering, and perhaps a bit shocking, to realize that within His ancestry we see such people as Rahab the harlot, Tamar who committed incest with her father-in-law, and even King David, who committed both adultery and murder. The Gospel does not present us with a ‘cleaned up’ version of those who were the ancestors of our Lord.
And what does this sometimes-sordid family history tell us?... There is an old proverb which states: ‘God writes straight with crooked lines.’ In other words, God can work things toward the good and toward His holy will even with the distorted and crooked materials of our lives. And this is a hopeful thing, dear brothers and sisters… God, Who is perfect, is able to work with our imperfections to create goodness and beauty and even holiness. We must never despair amid the messiness and darkness of our lives, of the lives of our family and loved ones… for the light of God can pierce through that darkness, illuminating things and bringing grace and love where grace and love have been absent. The primary requirement from our end is our repentance… our turning away from darkness toward that light.
In addition to celebrating the holy fathers today, we also celebrate a recent saint who brought grace and love where grace and love had been absent: that saint is our righteous father John of Kronstadt.
John Sergiev was born in 1829 into a poor but pious family. As a child, John had difficulties learning things, but he always had a great heart for prayer. One night, after begging God to help him with his studies, he suddenly felt like his mind was opened. From that day on, he became a very good student and was the head of his class.
He desired to become a priest and studied to become a missionary to Siberia and Alaska. But in a dream he saw himself in a large cathedral. He was married and ordained to the priesthood and was appointed to serve at the St Andrew Cathedral of Kronstadt. Walking into the cathedral, he recognized it as the church from his dream!
Kronstadt was a poor city… full of suffering people, drunkenness, and had a lot of crime. It was here that St John poured out his love and compassion upon the people. His kindness and generosity were given to all… he opened special houses for the homeless, he began work programs for those who did not have jobs, and he founded an orphanage for the many children who did not have parents to look after them.
His fame spread far and wide… people from near and far flocked to St John to receive his blessing, to seek some charity, and to ask for his prayers. From early morning until late at night, he had no rest… his life was dedicated to serving God and His people.
He served Liturgy every day in the huge cathedral which could hold up to 5,000 people. The grace of God gave him the strength to accomplish much.
He died Dec. 20, 1908, and his funeral, attended by tens of thousands, was like a joyous Pascha in the middle of the winter… for everyone knew they were in the presence of a saint!
St John’s mark on Kronstadt and St Petersburg is still clearly evident. On our pilgrimage there two years ago, we were blessed to visit the magnificent new cathedral in Kronstadt, St John’s apartment where he lived and received guests, and the Ioannovsky Convent in St Petersburg. But everywhere you go, not only in St Petersburg, but throughout Russia, and indeed throughout the world, St John of Kronstadt is honored and celebrated. It was St John’s cooperation with God which allowed him to be an instrument of ‘straightening the crooked lines’ in the world and in the people he encountered.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there is so much that is broken and crooked in life today. The evil one may tempt us to despair in that darkness. But we must not allow him to do so! Christ our God is the light of the world and His brightness easily penetrates the darkest places, if we will only turn to that light and allow it to shine through.
We are days away now from experiencing the dawn of our salvation… the holy nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. This event is truly one of the ultimate moments in the Light breaking through the darkness… when Christ our Lord is born.
Yesterday we began a new year… I pray that the coming year will be one of grace and light for all of you, that God will watch over you and protect you, and that you will live this year within the joy and beauty of His grace.